The trouble with Minnesota's toothless child sexual assault protection law

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April Kane went to great lengths to pass a form of Erin's Law in Minnesota. She felt alone at the Capitol, and alone trying to implement it now.

April Kane, a one-woman lobbying force, dogged the Minnesota legislature for years to pass a law that would require public schools to teach students how to recognize and report sexual abuse.

Named for a childhood sexual assault survivor from Illinois, Erin’s Law had been implemented in more than two dozen states before Minnesota passed its own version this year. But unlike most others, Erin’s Law in Minnesota is not mandatory and not funded, tasking Kane with figuring out how to convince school districts to get on board.

Kane’s single-minded push over the years included courting both Republicans and Democrats. The law was proposed every year since 2015, but it wasn’t until this last session that Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea) succeeded in putting the bill on Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.

The final version wasn’t as strong as Kane hoped, and it didn’t include provisions that other advocates wanted either. The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MN CASA), one of the state’s largest survivor advocacy groups, envisioned expanding the law to include training for teachers and parents, instead of placing all the onus on children. They preferred to slow down the process in order to do this and secure funding.

Kane disagreed. She believed getting a foot in the door was the most important thing, even if it meant having to scale taller hurdles when it came to implementation.

“Because Erin’s Law in Minnesota is just a suggestion, nobody knows about it and the Department of Education hasn’t said anything about it,” Kane says. “It allows us to say we’ve passed Erin’s Law, but we really haven’t.”

To get the word out about how it's been successful in other states, and that Minnesota schools could tap into federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Kane planned to go on Facebook Live with the Women’s March of Minnesota on Thursday.

The morning of, the Women’s March abruptly cancelled the video profile, with organizer Alena Temple explaining that she couldn’t appear to endorse Erin’s Law considering “turf wars and conflicts among organizations competing for funding or for perspective.”

Temple says the Women’s March thought it would be a better idea to fold Kane into a broader video that includes multiple advocates and their strategies for combatting sexual abuse.

Nevertheless, it was a blow to Kane, who has become increasingly frustrated with what she describes as other advocates’ standoffishness. She says all she wants is some help informing schools.

“No nonprofit has stepped up to help promote Erin’s Law,” she says. “It feels like a gag order. I’m trying to make some forward movement somehow, someway, which is hard.”

MN CASA spokeswoman Caroline Palmer said Friday that although the Erin’s Law that just passed wasn’t what the organization hoped for -- especially the omission of funding – she felt it was a success.

“There is a lot of support for this issue overall and of course it made it into law, but there was not much ability for us to get funding for it. There are so many competing interests at the legislature right now, so we pulled back,” Palmer said.

“What was passed is a good start. We hope that it leads to some funding to back it up in the future so it has a better chance for broader implementation.”

 


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